Friday, May 30, 2008

Tuition Blues

Like clockwork for young people, June comes with opening of classes. For migrant workers, it comes with opening of purses.

Many migrant workers are scholarship foundations. At the rate tuition and other school fee increases are going though, the foundations always find themselves cash-strapped.

When I was a student not so long ago, tuition didn’t bother me that much. I went to public schools for primary and secondary education.

College though was different. Despite it supposedly being a University of the People, P300 per unit was still a lot for a son of jobless parents and a brother of siblings who were part of the struggling rank-and-file workers.

I did get into that infamous socialized tuition crap but only managed to get into Bracket 5 that meant only free tuition. I tried to appeal but it looked like joblessness and renting a house with only one bedroom were not appealing enough. Maybe I should have tried to look more emaciated like the Rwandan refugees for the hardened hearts of the committee.

I looked for scholarship funds but it seemed that a degree in Philosophy was not scholarly enough to grant a slice of the scholarship pizza.

Anyway, through the graciousness of relatives, scrimping on a P100/week allowance while living in “Farview” (“North Farview” to be exact), eventually staying in that rat-hole but beloved Narra dorm, and then working my ass off as a student assistant on a P12/hour salary, I did manage to graduate.

Of course not everyone has gracious relatives, has P100/week to spare for allowance, can live in a dorm with quota of residents, or can be a student assistant. Consequently, not everyone can graduate.

I heard from news and read the statements of student groups that warned of more fee increases in the coming school year. The government allegedly called for a moratorium on tuition fee hikes but, as in the past, it only takes a minuscule of creativity to invent new fees or dump everything in that vague miscellaneous category.

For many Filipino migrants who are breadwinners of their families, June is the time to break that piggy bank, re-adjust budget, and most often, look for money lenders.

Of course, June is just the start. It’ll be another 10 months of thinking about where to get the funds for the next school project, everyday schooling and other incidental expenses for that much-vaunted dream of a diploma.

Yeah, sadly, there are also cases wherein their scholars do not appreciate the hardships that their parents, brothers or sisters go through just to put them up through school.

After four or five years of getting indebted until the graduation march is heard, then it’s time to search for jobs.

However, it is the kind of opening everybody looks for but most graduates never find year-round.

(Photo from Arkibong Bayan)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some Endings (or not)

A friend of mine is leaving Hong Kong for good.

He put our relationship succinctly in a card he gave me last night: weird.

We are not the type who talk endlessly for hours on a regular basis. In fact, it takes a miracle for us to see each other twice or thrice a month.

Despite such infrequent meet ups, our different takes on GMA and other political matters, our different fashion sense, and our different lifestyles, our friendship survived the three years that we’ve known each other. We usually talk as if we just saw each other yesterday.

I’ll miss the cakes he brings me from the Philippines (he gave me a sinful, chocolate-topped, chocolate-filled chocolate cake last night). I’ll miss his questions about Hong Kong as if I’m the expert. I’ll miss talking to him about his exes. And darn it, I never even got the chance to see his boyfriend I advised him to say yes to years ago.

We had an easy camaraderie. Somehow, I know we’ll see each other again and somehow, I know we’ll take it up again from where we left off.

* * *

Two of my favorite TV series just had their season finale.

Season 2 of Brothers and Sisters ended with the two most unlikely persons to get married getting hitched. Then there were these two characters I’ve been dying to see kiss finally do it. Nora was her usual self that make me wish I’m a Walker. Obviously I am not but apparently a certain “Ryan” is.

Meanwhile, Grey’s Anatomy ended its fourth season with a bang. Finally, finally Derek and Meredith seem to have a chance. Cristina has resurfaced from her recently battered self. George – why isn’t he playing gay? – is getting his mojos up. Alex has shown his gentlest side yet. Izzie looks like she has found her niche.

Shonda Rhimes did convey what she wanted with those last two episodes. There’s hope and there will be Season 5.

* * *

Ka Bel will be lain to rest today. Accolades he rightfully deserves have been given in the Philippines and abroad. Many people will surely miss him. As what my friends Kiks and Ina said, it is hard to talk about Ka Bel in the past tense.

He has been an important part of the people’s movement. I guess for as long as the national democratic movement lives on, Ka Bel will always be present.

* * *

I thought about ending it last night. There’s too much at stake, too many hassles, too much complications and too many reasons to call it quits.

But I can’t ....

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ka Bel

The first time I saw him, I thought, “this is him?”. He was kinda diminutive but I knew that he was a giant.

He was a giant in the Philippine labor movement. When one talks of militant Filipino workers, the name Kilusang Mayo Uno comes to mind. And for most of the my activist life, Ka Bel was the picture of KMU and of the workers’ struggle.

But I didn’t really get to talk to him until we met in Holland in 2001 for the first international assembly of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) where he was elected as the first Chair. There I found out that he was funny, humble and yes, great.

Since then, I have seen him a couple of times both in the Philippines and here in Hong Kong.

Amidst all the greatness, Ka Bel lived a simple life. As a recent news article showed, he was the poorest of all members of the Philippine Congress even after six years of being in office. The lure of power and wealth that came with such a position in our society was not enough to bend his principles. For this alone, he’s a man to emulate.

I remember one time when he came to HK to speak in one event here, he had this black belt that we never noticed, until the night before the event, was tied by a flimsy rubber band. He jokingly said that he had on a jacket anyway (it was starting to get cold then) and it’ll cover it up nicely.

The last time I saw Ka Bel was when we met with him and fellow partylist representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casino and Luz Ilagan in October last year for the second HK Mission for Human Rights and Peace and the Philippines. He was his usual jolly self despite being in a car accident just a couple of days before and also only a few months after he was released from more than year of “hospital arrest’ due to concocted charges.

As his colleagues said, he lived the life of a poor man up to the end. Where can you find a congressman who fixes his own roof, has an unfinished bungalow bought by a loan from GSIS, and has a net worth of P50,000?

Simple and ardent in the struggle. Despite the imprisonment, hospital arrest, harassment and failing health, he never wavered in his principles and his dream for a more humane and just society for the working class and other oppressed people.

I guess it was what made him larger than life.

(Graphics above is from
BAYAN. Many articles are appearing about Ka Bel. I again stumbled upon this page that even has his love story)

Friday, May 16, 2008


Coming out for gay men is usually a production number that can rival Belle Stars and the VIP dancers. Mine wasn’t so.

The first time I came out was to to my activist friends. They just asked me point blank if I am gay (if I remember correctly, it was after a couple of drinks), and I candidly said yes without even accounting for my non-existent bi years.

I think it was the time when I was really into this guy who was definitely gay but nobody dared ask. But anyway, my friends just said “good.” And it was.

It was good to finally be able to admit that any romantic notion with the Gabrielas is not a foreseeable life for me. It was good to finally be able to say the word without fear (yes, my friend Ryeness, so Broken Hearts Club). It was like the past has finally been put in its place and the future has been put in a clearer perspective. The present is still in the making.

A few hours ago, I learned of my second coming (beat that JC, a second coming) out .

My sister - the best in the world in my opinion, of course – said that she told my mother of who I am. To cap the great revelation, she told my eldest brother as well. She should have been with the KBP.

Seriously though, I am thankful. When one does not have a clear a idea on how to proceed, a slight push is always welcome.

And how did they react? My mom tried to deny it at first. My sister’s power of persuasion was just too much that she just said in the end: “ganun ba?”. My Kuya just said that it’s fine by him but he’ll pull my hair out if I get myself a boyfriend. That’s a bridge I have to cross when I see him again.

All in all, I guess it went better than many gay guys have to contend with when outting to his own family. It’s funny that the people who are supposed to love us are usually the ones we dread coming out to.

But I am confident now that however they look at gayness, my mom will still love me as her child and my bro will still treat me as his youngest sibling whose choices he has respected ever since.

I know that there’ll be moments of serious talks in the near future, but the stage has been set.

No, my coming out/outs was/were not a production number. Maybe I had it easier than some of us. The fear factor of the whole brouhaha did not figure prominently in my case.

Remember that feeling when one dreads something and as it turned, it wasn’t worth sweating it out at all? Then you just wanted to blurt out, “yun lang yun?”.

Still, I just wish for a time to come when coming out for anyone won’t be a production number. Or a number at all..

(May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia or IDAHO. It was on this day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. This is a just personal post for the said event.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where are the men?

While researching on ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, I found out that:
  • the sex ratio among ethnic minorities in Hong Kong is 293 men per 1000 women. This is much lower than the overall ratio which is 911 men per 1000 women
  • broken down among nationalities, ratios per 1000 women are: Whites (1842), Pakistanis (1349), Indians (1042), Japanese (1026), Thais (103)
  • there are 55 Filipino men per 1000 Filipino women
  • some say that out of every 10 men, one is gay. You can do the math.

I am so into Filipino guys. I may really be in the wrong place.

(Data from Census and Statistics Department)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Shot at Love

I bit more than I can chew when I said I’ll post something about love. I’ll take it up from what a friend wrote.

“I thrive in objectivity. By training and by practice, I analyze and rationalize and sometimes, even overly so.”

Years of talking with other people about their love life – the crazy and the profound, the romantic and the bland – has made me look at love objectively. But as others say, you’ll never really know until you feel it.

Like all other emotions, it is hard to be rational with love. Some even looks at it as insanity.

Amidst all the irrationality, a level head must still be maintained. Rationality is not the tap that can turn an emotion on and off. But it is what gives the direction. So that we get tempered. We get to consider our actions. We get to learn.

“Through common blog friends, we “met”. I enjoyed reading yours and you said the same for mine though you do not really read the political things I write about. That’s fine and it doesn’t matter now. I also do not read things you write about fashion. Maybe the themes will grow on us later.”

How do you say you know a person long enough to love him? There is no hard and fast rule I guess. Because knowing a person is a continuous process.

Of course there are the basic things to know thus the oh-so-lame now a/s/l. But people do essentially change. Thus if emotions like love is based on how you know and relate with a person, then they also change. They may grow and strengthen and they may also stagnate and die.

The condition may be difficult. In many cases, it is a matter of distance. A friend of mine said that distance is just an excuse. I say it is part of the condition that is used to justify an excuse. As we usually say, “effort talaga to.” We may lose despite the effort. But as always, the possibility is there.

“So when did it happen? I don’t know when. How did it happen?”

When one falls, he falls. Sometimes, when matters but not so much so with how.

It is seldom that one finds a person he can talk for hours with and still look forward to the next time. Of course love is not measured by such alone. If it is, then shrinks have the best romance in the world.

I do enjoy our conversations. It has become almost automatic of me to be in front of my laptop at 3:00 pm barring any meeting or appointment. This reminds me of the three o’clock habit our religion teacher taught us in primary school. Only a wee bit more sinful.

We talk. We connect. It is what we have now and maybe it will work out.

“Recently you asked what the future holds. I don’t know. The question, for now, is as wide as the ocean that is between us.”

Love. It sucks oh so often. Still, we love.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Wage War

A friend of mine has urged me to write about love. But there is a raging war in Hong Kong.

Within this month or maybe the next, the Hong Kong government will announce the results of its annual review of the minimum allowable wage or MAW of foreign maids. It's a yearly exercise that only god knows what process is used because it is as transparent as the pre-Lozada NBN-ZTE deal.

We've heard of how domestic workers here are abused, overworked and sometimes driven to desperation as shown by the reported suicide cases. But not much on the story of their wage.

There is a myth that foreign maid's salary in Hong Kong is one of the highest in the world. In fact, it was one of the arguments used by the venerable proponents of the wage cut on FDW's salary in 2003.

Back then, they used the wage level in Singapore and Malaysia as comparison. It was like comparing GMA to Estrada. Now that the wage is under review again, they are silent on the fact that compared with countries at par with Hong Kong’s economy like UK and Spain, FDW wage here is insignificant.

The current MAW is HK$3,480 a month. It has suffered two drastic wage cuts in the past decade – HK$190 in 1999 and HK$400 five years ago. For the past three years, it was increased by HK$50, then by HK$80 and then by another HK$80. Peanuts in relation to what has been shaved off.

This wage level is nominally equivalent to that in 1996. As if living standards have not changed since then. Even my favorite colorum restaurant has jacked off its regular meal by 25%.

It is no wonder then that wage is such a touchy topic for foreign maids.

More so now that everyone's burdened by price increases and drop in foreign exchange rates like in the Philippines. At only a little over Php 5 per HK dollar, many are forced to look for part time jobs – which is of course illegal – just to augment their remittance to their families.

So right now, everyone’s on their toes. The May First march had the wage issue as a main call. It was fantastic show of force by thousands of FDWs who joined local trade unions.

Some of the pics:

The wage campaign is a matter of survival. It is a matter of dignifying domestic worker's work. It is a matter of giving justice to one of the most neglected, abused and exploited sectors of the working people.

Though this may not be a post about love, somehow, I feel like this still is

PS: Alright. I will post about love soon. If he says yes.